Georgina Guedes

“Orange Grove Wall” disadvantages the disadvantaged

2015-07-03 14:24

Georgina Guedes

A few years ago, I interviewed someone from the National Planning Commission for an article I was writing. While we were chatting, I mentioned that I live in Orange Grove and that the construction of the Reya Vaya down Louis Botha was going to cause all manner of chaos for residents.

I’m not mentioning his name because this wasn’t the official topic of the interview, but he responded: “If we have to inconvenience one white person in a car to get an entire busload of black people whose commute is hours long to their destination, we’re willing to do that.”

His words have often rung in my head as I am moved to rage by the amount of extra time it takes me to drive five blocks in one direction to come five blocks back to get my daughter to school because of the stupid island down the middle of Louis Botha.

It’s, like, a whole extra five minutes of driving. That means I have to spend, oh, nine minutes in the car every morning. Who authorised this?

Check my privilege

So now, when I consider that I have benefited from all sorts of privileges that have made it possible for me to work where I live and educate my children close by, I feel a little rotten resenting the inconvenience to me, while something that will benefit those less fortunate is being built.

The guy’s words put the whole thing into perspective. The history of our country has meant that a large portion of the population lives outside of the economic hubs of our cities. So we have to do something to fix that, and that something is going to inconvenience those who are still benefiting from the privilege of apartheid. I get it.

It helped to be reminded of that, and to think that someone understands the inconvenience they’re inflicting upon us, but has a rational justification for doing so. 

Now add a fence!

But then they went and did the oddest thing. One morning we woke up and discovered that large sections of Louis Botha now have a massive fence running along the central island. This fence spans intersections. It’s made of finely woven mesh so that no one can gain a toehold. It looks like a prison perimeter.

Its function is baffling. Perhaps one day it will prevent people from crossing in front of buses and cars at any point on the road. But what it also does is stops people from crossing at legitimate intersections.

Now, if the rationale behind this whole colossal mess is to benefit previously (and still) disadvantaged people by providing them with a “Corridor of Freedom”, surely the system should also benefit those previously disadvantaged people who live outside of the townships? 

I don’t know if you’ve been down Louis Botha lately (I wouldn’t recommend it – it’s chaos), but if you have, you would notice that the majority of pedestrians are black, businesses are black owned and apartments are black occupied. This is the beating heart of the new South Africa.

And yet, this Rea Vaya system has been established in such a way that it takes away people’s ability to move freely in their own suburb. As much as I might gripe about my 10 block detour to get my daughter to school, the pedestrians who now have to walk 10 blocks to get to a shop across the road are the real victims of this kind of malicious planning.

How did this get approved?

It’s one of those situations that leaves me truly baffled. The words of the National Planning Commission dude helped me to get over my irritation at my own inconvenience. But then, when someone authorises a fence – a psychologically and visually unpleasant dividing mechanism – down the middle of a densely populated area, I am taken right back to thinking that nobody’s really given much thought to any of this.

Currently, previously disadvantaged South Africans are having their rights curtailed and their lives made more difficult, while affluent white South Africans are only mildly inconvenienced as they drive their cars around the Orange Grove Wall. How does this make sense?

- Georgina Guedes is a freelance writer. You can follow @georginaguedes on Twitter.

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